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MLS at Week 18: Dallas hosts red-hot Toronto, Cali Clasico and more

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MLS Rivalry Week may have officially taken place last weekend, but one of the league’s most-fierce battles will take shape on Saturday, while a cross-conference matchup pits two of the top sides against another.

All eyes will be on Avaya Stadium on Saturday night when the San Jose Earthquakes host California rivals LA Galaxy as both clubs currently sit in playoff positions out west.

Meanwhile, league-leading Toronto FC will travel down to Dallas to face Oscar Pareja’s group.

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Here’s a look at this weekend’s full slate of matches around MLS.

Real Salt Lake vs. Orlando City — 9:30 p.m. ET on Friday

A battle between two of the league’s most-struggling sides takes shape at Rio Tinto as RSL and Orlando desperately seek a win. The Lions enter Friday’s contest having won just one of their last 11 matches, the worst record in that span of any MLS side.

Chicago Fire vs. Vancouver Whitecaps — 7 p.m. ET on Saturday

Is there anybody hotter than the Chicago Fire right now? Simply, no. Veljko Paunovic is an early leader for Coach of the Year after leading his side from dead last in the East a season ago to within a point of Toronto FC. The Whitecaps — on the other hand — are starting to find their groove as well after picking up a three-match unbeaten run heading into the weekend.

FC Dallas vs. Toronto FC — 7 p.m. ET on Saturday

In the biggest clash of the weekend we’re served with two of the leagues top sides. Greg Vanney’s men have lost just two matches all season, including a current run of 10 unbeaten in their last 11. Meanwhile, Dallas has hit a bit of a bump in the road after racking up just one league win since May 20. Both sides boast potent attacks, but don’t expect goals galore as Dallas and Toronto are tied for the second-fewest goals allowed in MLS.

Sporting KC vs. Portland Timbers — 7 p.m. ET on Saturday

This one has the makings of a Western Conference final, and it could surely be the case come playoff time. Sporting’s backline continues to shine after allowing just 12 goals thus far through 18 matches, an astounding statistic. The Timbers are hovering at .500 in league play, and with the team struggling to find wins over recent weeks, a win at Children’s Mercy Park would be exactly what the doctor prescribed for Caleb Porter and Co.

Montreal Impact vs. D.C. United — 7 p.m. ET on Saturday

Although these two sides sit at the bottom of the East on 18 points, a win on Saturday could put one of them within three points of the sixth spot. That just shows how clogged the Eastern Conference playoff race is going to be.

Columbus Crew vs. Atlanta United — 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday

See the above match. With the Crew and Atlanta currently in a battle for a playoff position, this is the type of match both would seriously benefit taking three points from, particularly Tata Martino’s men.

Colorado Rapids vs. Houston Dynamo — 9 p.m. ET on Saturday

As bad as the Rapids have played this season, they still have two games in hand compared to most of the league, which could prove to be all the difference. Back-to-back losses halted the club’s momentum, and a visit from the Dynamo certainly isn’t a walk in the park.

San Jose Earthquakes vs. LA Galaxy — 10:30 p.m. ET on Saturday

Ah, another Cali Clasico is upon us. The last five times these two sides have met are about as even as you’d expect a rivalry to be, with the Galaxy taking home two wins, the Quakes picking up one of their own and a pair of 1-1 draws to show. With both clubs fighting for another step in the right direction towards the postseason, this match means a lot to the fierce rivals.

Philadelphia Union vs. New England Revolution — 5 p.m. ET on Sunday

A heartbreaking Open Cup loss is fresh on the minds of the Union, but Jim Curtin’s group will have to turn around quickly in order to get ready for the Revolution — who are losers of two straight against Toronto and Chicago.

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Low: Germany survived “a thriller full of emotion”

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At 1-0 down, they were headed for elimination in the group stage (with a game still to play); once level at 1-1, they faced yet a steep hill to climb on the final day of the group stage; after Toni Kroos scored his stunning 94th-minute winner, Joachim Low could finally exhale and imagine himself managing the German national team for another day.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Sweden at the 2018 World Cup was, for most intents and purposes, a worrying performance for the defending world champions. Fortunately for Low and Co., the one place in which their comeback dramatic victory was a raging success is the only one that matters: the Group F table, where Die Mannschaft currently (somehow) sit second and control their own destiny — quotes from the BBC:

“This was a thriller, full of emotion, right up until the final whistle. Brandt hit the goal post just three minutes before the end too. We took out a defensive player and brought on an attacking player because we knew had to bring on everything we had to turn it round.

“We had a couple of great chances — Mario Gomez’s header being one of them. The last couple of minutes were full of drama but those matches exist in football. We’ve had these situations in other tournaments as well. For the viewers that’s part of the attractiveness of football.”

“Something I did appreciate today was that we didn’t lose our nerve, we didn’t panic after going a goal down. We kept a level head and said we needed to make quick passes and tire the Swedes out to open up spaces.

“We didn’t score a couple of good chances but we never lost hope we could win the match and I think the goal scored in stoppage time had a bit of luck involved but it did show the belief we had in ourselves.”

There’s still plenty of work to do for one of the most popular pre-tournament favorites — there’s a little matter of needing to beat, or at the very least, best Sweden’s result against Mexico — but that can wait until tomorrow, because Saturday unexpectedly became all about survival.

Germany snatches late win over Sweden to avoid elimination

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Germany dodged a fatal bullet on Saturday, coming back from a goal down to Sweden to steal a 2-1 victory at the 2018 World Cup and keep their world title defense alive… barely.

For all of 16 minutes — plus halftime — the Germans were in line to be eliminated with one Group F game still to play, but ultimately, Ola Toivonen‘s unlikely opener was canceled out by Marco Reus in very short order after the restart, and Toni Kroos broke Swedish hearts in the 94th.

Put another way, Joachim Loew survives to manage another day.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Sweden felt massively aggrieved to have not been awarded a penalty kick in the 17th minute, when Jerome Boateng took out the legs of Marcus Berg as he bore down on an out-rushing Manuel Neuer. The combination of leg-to-leg contact and a strong push in the back appeared an obvious error for the video-assistant referee to right a wrong, but the call never came.

The opening goal was the direct result of a careless giveaway by Kroos near the center circle, and needed just three touches and two passes to cut through the German defense and spring Toivonen behind Antonio Rudiger. The finish, a perfectly weighted dink — perhaps aided by the slightest of deflections by Rudiger — left Neuer with no chance (WATCH HERE).

Then, with the final touch of the first half, Berg glanced a header from a free kick that was destined to his the inside netting at the far post, but Neuer redefined the phrase “at full stretch” to keep the scoreline 1-1.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

That save proved invaluable for Joachim Loew’s side, as Marco Reus pulled the defending world champions level less than three minutes into the second half. Timo Werner dribbled to the endline and cut the ball back toward the penalty spot, and Reus got on the end of the deflected cross and struck it home with his knee. A semblance of order restored.

Bedlam ensued in the final 15 minutes, as Boateng was sent off for a second yellow card and Neuer lost his footing while scrambling across the face of goal to make a save, only narrowly preserving the 1-1 scoreline. Robin Olsen one-upped Neuer in the 88th minute, rising to his crossbar to punch Mario Gomez’s header just over.

In the fourth of five minutes of second-half stoppage time, Kroos became the hero. From a nearly impossible angle on the left side of the penalty area, Kroos rolled the ball forward to Reus on the restart, creating an ever so slightly wider angle from which to curl his shot toward the far post. It worked to perfection.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

Germany (3 points) will finish group play against fourth-place South Korea (0 points) on Wednesday, while Sweden (3 points) will face Mexico (6 points), who had clinched their place in the knockout rounds until Germany’s late winner.

VIDEO: Toivonen chips Neuer; Germany on brink of elimination

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Germany, the defending world champions, have their backs firmly pressed against the wall, less than an hour away from elimination, in just their second game of Group F play at the 2018 World Cup. As of this moment, they’re set to be eliminated with one game still to play.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

After losing to Mexico in the opener, Joachim Loew’s side now trails Sweden in game no. 2, just shy of 45 minutes on the clock. As of right now, Mexico and Sweden (six points each) would go through to the knockout rounds, and Germany and South Korea (zero points) would go home.

Die Mannschaft were utterly dominant for the game’s first 30 minutes, holding more than 75 percent of possession, until Ola Toivonen, who scored all of two goals for Ligue 1 side Toulouse this season, got in behind the German backline and dinked the ball over the head of Manuel Neuer for the game’s opening goal.

Report: Player “coup” has Sampaoli on the outs at Argentina

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The Argentina men’s national team has been a mess for some time, with Lionel Messi retiring the last time controversy reared its ugly ahead, but this is something else.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Reports out of Argentina say manager Jorge Sampaoli has lost the team, who is now making decisions on their own ahead of their World Cup group stage finale against Nigeria.

Argentina drew Iceland in its opener before being embarrassed in a 3-0 defeat to Croatia in the second match, one in which Sampaoli’s lineup choice, tactics, and in-match decisions were skewered in the media.

Sergio Aguero was among the players to bristle at talk of the coach after the game.

This just hours after Sampaoli’s lineup to face Nigeria was “leaked” via training ground photos on Saturday.

More to come…